I’ve lived with Jasmine Frame, the “heroine” of Painted Ladies, for quite some years now. I feel I know her pretty well but she has developed with that familiarity. Painted Ladies is a murder thriller (not a who-dunnit) that explores Jasmine’s character and the changes taking place in her life. The two short stories I put up on this blog previously showed an early form of her character and setting. I also made an aborted start on a novel provisionally called In the Frame. It was never finished for two reasons. Firstly I didn’t plot it thoroughly so never got round to deciding exactly how it would end. Secondly, having got at least 10,000 words into it I had my laptop stolen and I discovered I had only backed up the first bit of it. I decided the story wasn’t strong enough as an introduction to the character of Jasmine Frame so I didn’t continue with it. Later I began planning and writing Painted Ladies. Nevertheless, in the weeks before publication of PL, I think it may be interesting to review that fragment of my earlier attempt at novel writing to see how Jasmine has changed. So here is the first bit of In the frame and there will be more next week. For a start I can tell you that Jasmine’s dress sense has modified somewhat..
In the frame – part 1
Jasmine lifted the glass to her lips and took a slow sip of whisky and soda. She looked across the glass rim to the side of the grimy, old-fashioned pub where a pair of men sat at a table. The young afro boy, Wayne Valentine, was sitting nervously, his tall frame fidgeting on the rickety wooden chair and he leaned forward to whisper to his companion. The other was more relaxed. Slight, pale, pony tailed, he slouched on the padded couch that ran along the wall of the lounge bar.
Valentine was the best friend of Robert Sanger, the dead addict son of Jasmine’s client. Sanger senior wanted to know who was responsible for his son’s death from an overdose on extra pure heroin and Valentine was the first link in the chain. Like his dead friend he was in his last year at a private school and from a respected middle-class family. He seemed uncomfortable in this dive of a pub, amongst the serious lunchtime drinkers who made up its sparse clientele. Valentine’s companion pulled a packet from the inside pocket of his snakeskin jacket and passed it under the table, not too secretly, to the coloured boy. Snakeskin’s chic but washed out looks were familiar but Jasmine just couldn’t put a name to the face. He would have to though because Snakeskin was the next link in the chain, which Jasmine would have to complete if he was to win Sanger’s promised reward.
“Do you mind if I sit here?”
Jasmine squeezed her knees together and instinctively tugged the hem of her leather skirt lower down her thighs as she turned her head to the speaker. Jasmine was pleased with her reaction. She’d spent months practising these little feminine reactions. She flicked her long black hair from her face and looked at the speaker. He was a fat, sweaty, middle-aged man in an ill fitting suit and scruffy fawn mac. He was squeezing between the tables to sit in the chair alongside Jasmine. He’s going to chat me up, Jasmine thought, noting that there were at least two tables in the bar with no one sitting at them. Other drinkers kept taking furtive glances at her but no-one, not even the barman, had spoken to her or looked at her directly. She had a good idea what they were thinking though.
“Sit where you like,” Jasmine replied coolly, turning away. It wouldn’t hurt her cover to be seen being spoken to by a stranger.
“Haven’t seen you in here before,” he wheezed, taking a gulp from his pint of bitter.
“No, I was waiting for someone,” Jasmine replied, not untruthfully. She examined her red-painted fingernails and glanced across the room. The conversation between the pair was finishing and the coloured lad was unfolding himself from the chair.
A cigarette packet, a cheap brand, the packet slightly crumpled, was proffered in front of her face and Jasmine realised that the fat man was leaning close to her. Trying to get a peep into my titless blouse, Jasmine guessed. She straightened her back, straining her well padded bra against her black lace blouse and turned to face him. His hand caught her attention. The fingers didn’t display the obesity of the rest of his body and the cigarette packet was held rock steady with no hint of shake.
“No thank you, I don’t smoke. In fact I think I’m going to have to leave.”
“Been stood up by your friend?” The man leered. The boy and Snakeskin started to make their way to the door. Jasmine stood up, smoothing her skirt down her thighs. She picked up her coat from the seat and put it on. The white pvc just reached the bottom of the mini-skirt leaving a foot of smooth black thigh exposed above the top of the shiny white knee high boots. A dozen eyes looked up and down her five foot nine, slim figure.
“No, I just don’t want to meet anyone here, thanks.” Her shiny red lips spread in a condescending smile as she hitched her bag over her shoulder. Jasmine walked to the door. Was that a soft wolf whistle she heard behind her? She paused in the porch to watch what the two subjects were up to. Valentine pulled the hood of his sweat shirt over his head and hurried off down the street to the left while the other loitered on the pavement unconcerned by the light drizzle falling from the uniformly grey sky.
Jasmine stepped into the street and crossed the road to where her car was parked. She was pleased to see that it was still intact; not that many kids would bother with a six year old Fiesta that had seen better days. As she opened the door a cab drew up outside the pub and Snakeskin got in. Jasmine threw her bag in to the passenger seat and sat hurriedly. The skirt rode up her sheer nylon covered thighs. The taxi moved off down the road. The Fiesta’s starter turned over with an ominous grinding noise. Jasmine took a deep breath and released the ignition key then gave it another turn. She let out a sigh when this time the engine caught and roared roughly as she shoved the accelerator to the floor. High heels and driving still didn’t seem to go together. The car lurched into the road but already the taxi was turning right at the end of the road.
When she reached the main road the black taxi was already far away on the right, approaching a roundabout. Traffic flew by in both directions and seconds passed before Jasmine could pull out. She ignored the urban speed limit and drove right up to the rear bumper of a white van racing to the roundabout. Peering in all directions there was no sign of the taxi. Jasmine thumped the wheel in despair and at a more sedate pace chose the exit onto the ring road. She didn’t want an encounter with the traffic cops as her driving licence was still in her old name – James Frame, aged 34, ex-detective constable, now private investigator and trans-gender candidate.
Keeping strictly to the speed limits she drove around the streets but the taxi and Snakeskin were nowhere to be seen. She zig-zagged back into town passing various pubs and clubs hoping for a glimpse of the dealer. Snakeskin looked like the kind of cool dude who would inhabit the flashy clubs where drugs could be purchased as easily as mineral water and fags. It looked as though Jasmine’s social life was assured this weekend until she made contact with him.